I believe in authentic complements and concentrating on the positives in my relationships with others. But in my corporate consulting and personal coaching business, candor is a must. But I would never purposely insult anyone. Key word here, purposely.
From Insult To Income
The following examples are food for thought about being truly authentic, even if it means the potential loss of income.
The conference room was full. The CEO and the heads of all his departments, including his wife and daughter were there too. I’d been referred to them because of my corporate consulting business.
The boss was a short, stout fellow with a bulbous W.C. Fields like nose, as red as Rudolph’s. Before he’d begun this fledgling company he’d been very successful in business, which he seemed to rule like a little kingdom.
“We’ve interviewed eleven other consultants for this job,” the CEO said, “you’re number twelve.” I was immediately able to figure out part of their problem; slow decision making.
The walls of the conference room were strung with pictures of their nutritional product line. The packaging was remarkable in that it was so unremarkable. They were clearly proud enough to display them but it was starting to feel like a Saturday Night Live sketch.
The CEO began asking me a series of questions, first about my experience then he went to asking my opinions about some strategies they were considering.
My philosophy is to stop answering consulting questions before I’m retained after about the fifth one. So, I told him that, but with a smile. He didn’t return the smile. Instead he replied that since he had two more questions due him; first, what did I think about their product line?
I picked up one of the products and said, “Your packaging looks like a generic brand. There are no graphics and your logo is indistinct.”
His cheeks started to redden with his nose at full glow. His retinue squirmed uncomfortably with quick glances at their boss then at one another. Clearly an edgy room except for his wife. She was looking down at the table with slight smile on her face.
I said, “Look, I don’t mean to insult you, but if you’re bringing someone in from outside the company you are clearly looking for honest third-party guidance. So, while I don’t claim to be right all the time, at least you’ll know where I stand.”
With an almost imperceptible nod, he continued. “Okay. I have one more question, if you’re willing. It might take awhile, but it will help me decide.
He noted on my bio that I’d had considerable experience in TV production including corporate image videos. He said they’d already shot a lot of their video and had a loose assembly of clips strung together as an outline. Would I look at it for an hour, have lunch and discuss it. I agreed. I was closed off in a darkened room by myself.
I had a copy of the script, which was a series of suggested shots, They’d already shot an airplane swooping low over a field and spiraling up in an impressive maneuver like what you might see at a good air show. That was fun. Everything else was painful to watch.
When we resumed in the boardroom with Chinese takeout. After polite luncheon conversation I set down my chopsticks and we sat there for a few moments saying nothing. If you’ve ever seen a courtroom awaiting a jury verdict you get the idea.
“Well?” The CEO asked, sitting back with his hands clasped across his midsection.
First I asked about the reason for the airplane as it wasn’t in the script. The group on either side of the boss seemed to simultaneously shift in their chairs with uncomfortable looks. He said, “Well, the director thought it would make for a dramatic shot somewhere in the piece.”
I was shocked and realized they’d been taken for a ride and not just in an airplane. I just nodded.
“So,” he said, what did you think of the rest of it?”
I said, that I had good news and bad news. The good news was that you could reuse video tape.
I was trying to stop myself from saying that, but it was too late. I’m opinionated but not insulting and I felt I’d gone over the line, though I kept that to myself.
The boss’s entire face was aglow again as he began tapping his fingers on the table and said, “Well, fine, I guess. We’ve had our five questions now, so thank you very much. We’ll be in touch.” We shook hands all around and I thought, well, that’s the last time I’ll see this bunch.
Before I got back to my office I got a call from his VP. “We’d like to retain your services. When can you begin?”
I was momentarily speechless. I asked him why me after eleven others who’d come before. He said, they’d all complimented everything. Not one had anything corrective about anything the’d seen or heard in the company. Just platitudes. He said. The CEO was taken aback by my candor but said after I left, “Why did these others think we were looking for a consultant, to be told we’re doing everything so great?”
It was a very profitable consult. One I was amazed to have gotten under the circumstances.
How To Risk Insulting An Academy Award Winning Producer And Get The Job
I knew the producer socially through a mutual friend he was dating. He’s a big lanky New Yorker with an attitude and accent to match. He’d already won an Academy Award for best film and was destined to receive a second one several years later.
We were in my living room having just been notified that our girlfriends were running late. We’d been talking for a half hour. He said, “Tom, I have to read a couple of scripts and I was wondering if, while we’re waiting, you wouldn’t mind reading one while I read the other. I’d like your opinion too, if you don’t mind.”
We both settled back and began reading. My script was from a story by the producer and written by someone I didn’t recognize. He’d obviously paid to have this written or perhaps written it himself under a pseudonym.
It was pretty bad. Lots of holes in the plot, uneven dialogue and unconvincing scenes but the story was great. I was disappointed to see this kind of output from a supposedly professional writer.
As the women pulled up to the house he said, “So, what did you think, Tommy?”
I handed the script back to him and said, “Good story but the script has some big holes. You’ll see them when you read it.”
We all had a nice time sans further discussions about the script.
The next afternoon my phone rang. It was the producer. Without introduction he blared into the phone at me, “Tommy, you said the script had some holes in it…!” Oy, I thought, I stepped in it this time. He continued, “The script is a hole!” I can’t believe I paid that (expletive deleted) to write this!”
As I listened to his rant about the writer I was debating what to do. You see I’d been so inspired by the story that I got up early that morning and began writing a new script based around his story. I told him I had written twelve new pages. He said he’d like to see it.
He liked it and hired me as a story consultant but I ended up completing the script before another writer could be brought in. He bought my script and made me a co-producer if they ever got the funding. Unfortunately, like a majority of Hollywood scripts, even those that are paid for, it never got made.
Diplomacy in all areas of life is a safe and often decent way to proceed. However, when you’re being paid to deliver in business, whether as an employee or outside consultant, you have to consider the power of absolute authenticity and base it on the strategy of your positioning. It’s a subject that I work with in almost every coaching client I have.
If you’re being consulted because you’re an expert, don’t just be an expert, be a leader.
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